Behind the Scenes of AMAN: Protecting the Indigenous People

Our group had the honor of visiting the AMAN headquarters in Jakarta. AMAN, Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara, translates to the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago. Before walking into the headquarters, we removed our shoes and made our way to the lunch table, which included floor seating and a view of several pieces of indigenous community art.

Before the meeting, we were served a delicious lunch including many traditional foods: tongkol fish, tempe, tofu, white rice, chicken rica rica, sambal dabu dabu (very spicy salad), soup iga (ribs soup), and cah aangkung (greens). I decided to step into the kitchen to see how the foods were made and met the chef, who had formally worked on a cruise ship. Mina Setra, the Deputy Secretary of AMAN, introduced everyone working at the national headquarters.

AMAN is a non-governmental organization and its members include 2,253 indigenous communities of 50 million people from all over the archipelago of Indonesia. The main purpose is to recover the rights of indigenous people in all sectors of development. There are 20 regional chapters and 93 local chapters. There are three wings to the organization: women empowerment, youth empowerment, and for the indigenous people’s committed lawyers (there are currently 29 lawyers.) The four key efforts include a credit union to support the members’ needs, a corporation to develop indigenous peoples’ crafts, community gold mining and establishing indigenous registration for land mapping.

The community gold mining is done as a last resort where the forests have already been destroyed and people don’t have any options but to take over the mining and develop their own traditional ways of mining. Their gold mining methods are different than mining in other parts of the world in that they do not use hazardous chemicals, but practice traditional values and customary laws to govern the way they manage the mining. They produce less gold than the common gold miner, but the profit is fairly distributed among communities.

AMAN provides the technology and methods to gather special information to validate the claims of land for the indigenous people. Mapping these lands is a fundamental need of the indigenous people. These maps are a tool of conflict resolution and help protect the culture of the indigenous people by informing the government where the communities are located. Hearing about the mapping process was absolutely fascinating. An indigenous community will submit a map request and AMAN will provide the technical assistance, GPS, experts and other tools. It is a lengthy process to define the borders of ancestral land and can take from a few months to over a year. The elders of the community play a critical role in the mapping process, telling the stories of their ancestors to provide social and cultural history. Once drafted, the neighboring communities need to approve the borders. This can be tricky as stories have several versions and communities have migrated to different areas of the land for a variety of reasons. One reason that stood out to me was that in some villages, the whole community moves when someone passes away. Using history to determine the social information of the land is the most critical part of the process. The AMAN organization plans to map 40 million hectares of customary forests by 2020. In November 2012, AMAN submitted 2.4 million hectares consisting of 256 maps. The Ministry of Environment now uses these maps, and the second batch of maps is being prepared for submission.

Another major project AMAN is working on is passing the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Bill in Parliament. The bill is critical for the indigenous groups because it is the basis of sector law and is seen as the “umbrella law” of their rights. This law needs to be passed this year before the upcoming elections because, if not, the organization will have to start from scratch in gaining the support of a newly elected Parliament. Nevertheless, AMAN and the indigenous communities are optimistic in the wake of the constitutional ruling giving them control over their native land.

-Noor Tagouri

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